Member Rara Avis
Some seven years ago, the pipTalk forums were created in large part because a small group of people got really, really tired of the gratuitous sex and violence being posted in other poetry forums. I don't think a single one of us were prudes, which is probably why the stuff being posted for shock value neither shocked us nor impressed us, but we figured there had to be a better way to share poetry. From that first day, when there were only a handful of us here and no easy way for anyone else to find us, we labored to maintain a family-oriented atmosphere through the simple expedient of cooperation. The rules didn't really come until much later.
They did eventually come, though, along with an Adults Only forum to house poetry and prose that didn't well fit into the family structure we were building. We intentionally kept the rules very loosely defined, and still continued to rely more on a sense of cooperation than on hard and fast mandates. It worked surprisingly well for a surprisingly long time.
Nothing lasts forever, however, and over the course of the last year we've struggled with two related problems.
1. Loosely defined rules, to be of any use, need to be interpreted by people. That didn't create a problem when we were smaller and the interpretations were always done by the same people, but growth and inevitable changes in staff (not to mention changes in individuals themselves over the years) have resulted in a lot of inconsistency. What was unacceptable in Open Poetry a year ago was suddenly deemed fine today, with a very real danger it would again be unacceptable next week.
2. Loosely defined rules, to be of any use, need to be interpreted by people - and that is NOT an easy job. It can be extremely frustrating for staff to toe the line when the line seems to be constantly moving, and there has been increasing pressure to try to make things a little more black and white and a lot less murky.
The forums have been closed for the past few days, in part so we could try to work through some of these problems. The result is only a start, but I think it has the potential to be a good start.
Here's a brief synopsis of some of the changes you can expect to see:
We have tried to devise a Forum Ratings System, not unlike the movie rating system Hollywood has been following for most of thirty years. Each of the forums now includes a Rating, from G to PG to PG-18 to R to NC-18, listed in the forum description as a live link to an explanation of exactly what it means.
Well, as exact as is possible, at least. We're always going to have a fair bit of gray twixt the black and white, and I have little doubt our Forum Ratings will evolve quite a bit more over the next year. We're going to depend on you, all of you, to help us with that.
The use of adult language in the public forums has consistently been the one area most lacking any real consistency. One person's swear word is often another person's endearment, it seems, and there have been a long series of knock-down Moderator discussions on what should and shouldn't be appropriate. George Carlin's list of "Seven Word You Can't Say on Television" notwithstanding, no two people seem to be able to reach any agreement (indeed, one of our Moderators still vociferously argues that one of the words on Carlin's list should be allowed in the public forums).
Most of my time for the past few days has been spent rewriting just about everything that has to do with posting, replying or editing. We've always had a word filter available, that cute little darlin' that changes naughty words to asterisks, but we've never used it very much because a thinly disguised profanity is still a profanity when the readers can easily interpret the intent. All the asterisks ever did was create more work, both for the Moderators and for the Members who had to edit their work after it was moved to a more appropriate forum.
The new posting software, instead of changing words into asterisks, simply won't allow proscribed words and phrases to be posted in the wrong forum. Period. End of discussion. (You will be given some choices, of course, depending on where you are and what you were doing. The choices, I hope, will be self-evident should you stumble on them.)
Honestly, I could have used a few more days on the software. And probably a few more days after that to better test it. There are likely going to be a few glitches, and there are pieces of the puzzle yet to be built. We need a way so those who are interested can see the list of filtered words, I'd like to incorporate an override so that someone talking about a female dog can still use the right term in a public forum, and those are just two items off the top of my head. Like all else, it's a work in progress, and as always, your suggestions (and condemnations) will be welcome.
Finally, the forums have been rearranged a bit, a task I actually started more than a week ago. Some of the minor changes are indeed so minor I doubt anyone will even notice them. The real goal was to give our Mature Content category a bit more exposure. With the tightening of the rules and language in our public forums (G and GP), the forums in MC are necessarily going to play a greater role at pipTalk.
The Insights forum, in particular, has gained greater prominence and now sits directly beneath the Open Poetry forum. Even though it's seemingly out of order, Insights is still an MC forum and still requires people to request access (mostly to insure no one inadvertently walks through the door without realizing where they're at). For many people, I expect Insights will become their new Open Poetry, a place where they can explore the grittier side of adult life, largely free of the language and thematic strictures in the G and GP forums. Our remaining MC forums remain much as they have in the past, and of course there's always the possibility more MC forums will be needed. That will be up to you guys.
It's important to remember that, when push comes to shove, software, forum ratings, rules, organizations and structures, will never be a substitute for human judgment. We're still going to have inconsistencies, in theme if not in language, and we're still going to run into all those various shades of gray. And, of course, we're still going to have people trying to push the envelope in spite of every hint we throw at them.
Our Moderators have one of the toughest jobs imaginable. Your help and appreciation can make that job immensely rewarding, while your lack of restraint and consideration can just as easily make it unbearably frustrating. The Moderators, first and foremost, come here to write and read and enjoy poetry, just as you do, and whether they will continue to be willing to give freely of their time to keep these forums running will depend on each of you. Should the day arrive when we can no longer insure the quality that makes pipTalk unique, these doors will close, not just for a few days, but forever. The fate of this community rests in the hands of our Moderators.
The fate of the Moderators rests in yours.